Stews are commonly thought of as a peasant dish, and probably not sexy enough to want to serve at a dinner party. However, given that we find ourselves unable to host guests anyway - at least not physically - we can cook, serve and eat whatever we feel up to (young tastebuds permitting).
This is an easy recipe which takes about an hour to cook but minutes to prep, so there's no need to be constantly stirring or having your eyes on multiple pots and pans. Ribollita is a Tuscan stew, made hearty with the use of stale bread, but still full of veg and protein with the beans. The best thing about it is that it's perfect for using any vegetables that need eating up - there are no rules as to what you put in, in my books (sorry Tuscany).
The way that the bread absorbs all of the flavours and becomes creamy when doused in good olive oil is the real selling point, and the thing that makes Ribollita stand out against other stews.
2 carrots, cut into 3-4cm cubes
1 large white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped - leaves kept for later
2 medium potatoes, (skin on for fibre) cut into 3-4cm cubes
1 tin plum tomatoes
1 tin cannellini beans
2 big handfuls of chopped cavolo nero, kale or whole spinach
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 vegetable stock cube (1/2 tbsp bouillon)
Salt and pepper
4 tinned anchovies, chopped (optional)
Handful of fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
2-3 slices of stale bread of your choice
In a large, heavy-bottomed soup put, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over a medium heat and add the onions, garlic, thyme and fennel seeds. Stir frequently until the onions are translucent and mix in the celery, carrots and potatoes.
After 5 minutes, tip in the cannellini beans with the water they came in and the plum tomatoes. Stir well and let it simmer until the vegetables are beginning to look a bit dry. Add enough boiling water to cover the mixture well, then crumble in the stock cube and add the lemon juice and the anchovies (if using). Taste the stew before seasoning, as the lemon juice will off-set any saltiness. Let this simmer for a further half an hour.
Add the cavolo nero and stir through. Check that the potatoes are well-cooked, then turn off the heat. Lay the slices of bread on top of the stew, then drizzle some good-quality olive oil all over. Put a lid on the pot and leave for ten minutes.
Stir the bread through the stew - it should have absorbed the flavours and made the stew deliciously thick and creamy. Serve topped with the celery and parsley leaves.